Ever since it received the great commission from Jesus to “make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20), the Church has found itself entrusted with the ministry of teaching.

This ministry has faced new challenges throughout history. In Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the defunct Roman schools were replaced by monasteries not only as centers of evangelization and catechesis, but also of learning in general. It was there centers of Christian culture blossomed into the cathedral schools and universities of the high Middle Ages.

This educational mission has flourished even when transplanted across the sea to mission territory such as America. However, the challenge facing those who work within the Catholic schools today is not merely to “give witness to Christ, the unique Teacher, by their lives as well as their teachings” in their apostolate (Vatican II, Declaration on Christian Education, No. 8). It is to do so in a setting increasingly characterized by aggressive secularism.

Catholic centers of education in the coming millennium must not only find ways to reaffirm their Catholic identities, but must become centers of the “new evangelization” — an evangelization new in “ardor, methods, and expression” (John Paul II, The Church in America, nos. 66, 71).

John Grabowski is associate professor of moral theology at The Catholic University of America